The celebrations erupted at midnight. Thousands of revelers poured into Juba’s steamy streets in the predawn hours on Saturday, hoisting enormous flags, singing, dancing and leaping on the back of cars.
“Freedom!” they screamed.
A new nation was being born in what used to be a forlorn, war-racked patch of Africa, and to many it seemed nothing short of miraculous. After more than five decades of an underdog, guerrilla struggle and two million lives lost, the Republic of South Sudan, Africa’s 54th state, was about to declare its independence in front of a who’s who of Africa, including the president of the country letting it go: Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, a war-crimes suspect.
Many of those who turned out to celebrate, overcome with emotion, spoke of their fathers, mothers, sons and daughters killed in the long struggle to break free from the Arab-dominated north.
“My whole body feels happy,” said George Garang, an English teacher who lost his father, grandfather and 11 brothers in the war.
By sunrise, the crowds were surging through the streets of Juba, the capital, to the government quarter, where the declaration of independence would be read aloud. Thousands of soldiers lined the freshly painted curbs, tiger patches on their arms, assault rifles in their hands. This new nation is being built on a guerrilla army — the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, whose field commanders are now South Sudan’s political leaders — and the amount of firepower here is unnerving.
By 9 a.m., the sun was dangerous. The faces, necks and arms of the people packed thousands deep around a parade stand built for the occasion were glazed with sweat. A woman abruptly slumped to the dirt and was whisked away. [Read More]
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